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Gerry Neugebauer


Gerry Neugebauer, Caltech's Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Physics, Emeritus, and one of the founders of the field of infrared astronomy, passed away on Friday, September 26. He was 82.

Neugebauer earned an AB in physics from Cornell University in 1954 and a PhD in physics from Caltech in 1960. He then served two years in the United States Army, stationed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, before returning to Caltech in 1962 as an assistant professor of physics. He was named an associate professor in 1965, professor in 1970, Howard Hughes Professor in 1985, and Millikan Professor in 1996. He retired in 1998.

He served as the director of the Palomar Observatory from 1980 to 1994 and as the chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1988 to 1993.

In addition to his leadership of the Two-Micron Sky Survey—the first infrared survey of the sky—Neugebauer led the science team for the first orbiting infrared observatory, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), which conducted the first far-infrared sky survey and detected hundreds of thousands of objects. He and his colleagues also obtained the first infrared view of the galactic center, and he was the codiscoverer of the Becklin-Neugebauer Object, a massive but compact and intensely bright newly forming star in the Orion Nebula, previously undetected at other wavelengths of light.

Neugebauer also played a key role in the design and construction of the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. His numerous prizes included the Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1986), the Herschel Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1998), the Space Science Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (1985), and lifetime achievement awards from the American Astronomical Society (the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1996) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Medal, 2010). He was named California Scientist of the Year in 1986.

A full obituary will follow at a later date.

Written by Kathy Svitil